In The Leadership Challenge, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner propose that a good vision is one that’s shaped along the way by everyone who is involved in completing it. Anyone who reads and comments on this blog or who assists in developing the ODIN Project is helping to shape the vision of what games can be even as we make it a reality. Because of that, I thought it was fitting to start a discussion on the potential future of video games by posting about my personal vision for them and asking you where you would like to see them going in the future.
As for me, my vision of games is to be something more than mere entertainment. Not only can a well-written story combined with a well-designed game be a lot of fun, it can inspire us, help us learn, and bring a deeper satisfaction to our lives. Those kinds of games can have a powerful impact, just as excellent books, movies, and art can. I envision exceptional games achieving this potential by doing these three “E”s:
Entertain—First and foremost, a game must entertain. If it fails here, no one will care how beneficial it might be. Most of us have tried at some point to read a classic book or watch an old movie that just didn’t engage us. If we aren’t entertained, we don’t want to keep going, no matter how positive the influence might be. Beyond that, we all need to rest from the fatigue of daily living. Games can offer a great diversion from the mundanities of life by taking us to a world quite different from our own.
Edify—To edify is “to build up, establish, or strengthen a person…; to uplift” (dictionary.com). Have you ever played a game that inspired you and made you want to do better? Have you ever played a game that made you cry? Those games exist, but they’re not nearly as well represented yet in the video game market as they are in literature, music, film, or art. That does not mean, however, that it can’t be done. I’ve seen it, and you’ve probably seen it. Video games even have the advantage of having a level of engagement that can’t be rivaled in any other medium, which can make them very powerful.
Educate—I have to admit, I loved playing games like “Gizmos and Gadgets” and “Jumpstart 4th Grade” as a kid, but that’s not what I’m referring to when I say exceptional games educate. By that I mean they have learning interwoven with the gameplay, story, scene, etc. You learn almost by default. Players must figure out how to operate a mechanical device, characters discuss a difficult moral dilemma, or the game is set in 15th century China and the player is bathed in copious cultural details. Most of the time, games that effectively educate this way will leave you wanting to know more, perpetuating the learning process after you put down the controller.
Behold my Venn diagram:
I see exceptional games having this level of impact. I’ve seen instances of it already. When I played Age of Empires II, I wanted to learn more about the cultures being depicted and the histories being played out. When I finished Beyond Good & Evil—in my opinion one of the most underrated games of all time—I felt like I was walking on air. I had been so drawn into the world and the characters that the final victory became far more meaningful.
Despite believing that video games have such great potential, I don’t think every game needs to be this way. That’s why I call them “exceptional games.” Especially with casual games becoming so popular, some games will just be for entertainment, and that’s fine. Not every book that’s ever been written fully does all three of these, but the ones that endure for centuries typically do. Video games can also have that kind of a lasting impact on individuals and cultures by using gameplay, story, music, setting, and all of their elements to create a fun and influential work of art. In fact, because of the unique combination of elements found only in video games, perhaps some of them could do it even better.
There’s my two cents (and then some.) Now I want to hear from you. What is your vision for video games?